food not bombs wins first amendment lawsuit against city of flagstaff, arizona

by Tim Phillips

Yesterday U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake overturned an Arizona state law that criminalized being “present in a public place to beg.” The Flagstaff Police Department and City Attorney had aggressively enforced the law, negatively impacting Food Not Bombs (FNB). For example, several FNB members had apparently been arrested for requesting donations from passersby. According to yesterday’s press release from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),

In 2008, the City of Flagstaff adopted a policy in cooperation with local businesses—called “Operation 40”—to remove panhandlers from downtown areas by jailing them early in the day. Flagstaff utilized the now-void statute, which equated panhandling with loitering, to justify the arrests. Between June 2012 and May 2013, 135 arrests were made by the Flagstaff Police Department under the law.

On June 25, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the City of Flagstaff on behalf of FNB and three people who had been arrested, threatened with arrest, or who feared being arrested for “loitering to beg.” Judge Wake ruled yesterday afternoon that the 1988 state law at issue was unconstitutional. He also prohibited Flagstaff from “interfering with, targeting, citing, arresting, or prosecuting any person on the basis of their act(s) of peaceful begging in public areas.”

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